Preservation of organic matter in estuarine and coastal areas is an important process in the global carbon cycle. This paper presents bulk δ13C and C/N of organic matter from source to sink in the Pearl River catchment, delta and estuary, and discusses the applicability of δ13C and C/N as indicators for sources of organic matter in deltaic and estuarine sediments. In addition to the 91 surface sediment samples, other materials collected in this study cover the main sources of organic material to estuarine sediment. These are: terrestrial organic matter (TOM), including plants and soil samples from the catchment ; estuarine and marine suspended particulate organic carbon (POC) from both summer and winter. Results show that the average δ13C of estuarine surface sediment increases from –25.0 ±1.3‰ in the freshwater environment to –21.0 ±0.2‰ in the marine environment, with C/N decreasing from 15.2 ± 3.3 to 6.8 ±0.2. In the source areas, C3 plants have lower δ13C than C4 plants (–29.0 ±1.8‰ and –13.1 ±0.5‰ respectively). δ13C increases from –28.3 ±0.8‰ in the forest soil to around –24.1‰ in both riverbank soil and mangrove soil due to increasing proportion of C4 grasses. The δ13CPOC increases from –27.6 ±0.8‰ in the freshwater areas to –22.4 ±0.5‰ in the marine-brackish-water areas in winter, and ranges between –24.0‰ in freshwater areas and –25.4‰ in brackish-water areas in summer. Comparison of the δ13C and C/N between the sources and sink indicates a weakening TOM and freshwater POC input in the surface sedimentary organic matter seawards, and a strengthening contribution from the marine organic matter. Thus we suggest that bulk organic δ13C and C/N analysis can be used to indicate sources of sedimentary organic matter in estuarine environments. Organic carbon in surface sediments derived from anthropogenic sources such as human waste and organic pollutants from industrial and agricultural activities accounts for less than 10% of the total organic carbon (TOC). Although results also indicate elevated δ13C of sedimentary organic matter due to some agricultural products such as sugarcane, C3 plants are still the dominant vegetation type in this area, and the bulk organic δ13C and C/N is still an effective indicator for sources of organic matter in estuarine sediments
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